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Why the fact-check amendment’s ‘infringements’ on free speech online matter—especially during an election year

The Indian government’s plans to give a government-appointed unit power to fact-check information on the state is facing three constitutional challenges before the Bombay High Court. The concerns of the petitioners are clear: this amendment to the IT Rules, 2021, is an ambiguous, disproportionate, and unconstitutional infringement on free speech rights in India.

As per the amendment introduced to the IT Rules in April this year, intermediaries are notified of any government-related content that is fact-checked as false or fake or misleading by the government’s fact-check unit, including social media platforms. If a social media platform (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, etc.), an Internet Service Provider (Airtel, Jio, etc.), or any other intermediary fails to remove the content flagged by the fact check unit, the intermediary could lose safe harbour protections guaranteed by Section 79 of the IT Act, 2000, which absolves intermediaries of liability for content posted by users.

India’s IT Ministry will notify the name of the fact check unit of the Central Government that will carry out this function, but it is likely to be the Press Information Bureau’s fact check unit, which falls under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, as indicated by the IT Minister previously.

This month multiple parties challenging the law before the Bombay High Court argued that it arbitrarily stifles free speech rights online, held under Article 19(1)(a), at the cost of keeping Indian citizens informed and engaged on dissenting views.

With the government promising to stay the notification of the proposal until September 4th, MediaNama’s Nikhil Pahwa and G. Aarathi use this breather to explore the consequences of the law, especially during a politically charged election year.

Watch the full conversation here:

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Written By

Founder @ MediaNama. TED Fellow. Asia21 Fellow @ Asia Society. Co-founder SaveTheInternet.in and Internet Freedom Foundation. Advisory board @ CyberBRICS

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